Going into what was my 6th race, my race preparation was less than "ideal". I was feeling terrible throughout the day prior to the race, which quickly taught me an obvious lesson that no matter what time the race is the next day, GO TO BED. After drinking plenty of fluid and gathering myself, I rode down to the race.
With previous races I had learned a few things about my ability and developed this simple strategy accordingly. (All of which I heard many times over from our seasoned teammates but finally starting to become "my" knowledge)
1. I don't have the power or the endurance (yet) to make any significant moves and hold it for a prolonged period of time
- Stay toward the front, HIDE and CONSERVE but do not fall back
2. It takes me longer than most to recover after considerable efforts so constant surges will have devastating effects on me
- Stay towards the front so I don't have to go through constant surges that come with the accordion effect
- Pedal through the corners whenever possible, close that gap right away
(Bob Willems said, "few hard kicks will save loads of energy later)
3. I get to the limit of myself quickly but hold it there for a bit longer than most can. Ever so slightly but longer.
My goal for this race was to finish with the pack.
I made sure I had my wheels on the line and immediately from the start, there were three of us xXx'ers in the front. Ryan pulled, Dave pulled, then it was my turn. I really wanted to have the beer company team guy who was yapping in the back pull but I had no choice.
Then I decided I'm not going to do any favors for anyone and slowed down significantly, looking from side to side to make sure I know when there is a group swarming from the flanks. Here I learned that the group will rather slow down than come to the front and become a shield, a lesson that I thought I may be able to use some other time.
As anticipated, there was that impatient guy who surged ahead with another handful of guys that decided to follow. I found a small space in between and started to settle in there.
Throughout the race, there were surges in pace here and there with a few guys making attacks that went futile.
There were few occasions I ended up out in the front again and pushed out to the flanks but for the most part, I made sure that I was hiding whenever I can, putting in small efforts to close down gaps immediately after corners, ensuring that I was on a wheel of someone as we bridged up to gaps. Until the last 4 laps.
With around 4 laps to go, which I wasn't even aware by the way, I heard a bell and the pace started to pick up and the pack started shifting around. I was fairly confident that it was the prime lap but I wanted to make sure that if it was the bell lap, then I was going to be in a decent position.
Going into turn 3, I was sitting on a wheel of another rider who started to fade as we approached the line. I decided to come to the front and there it was; my first prime.
As I crossed that line, winning a prime lap which I did not want to or had planned to, I saw the lap counter showed 2.
Once again, as happened in Gapers, I realized I put in too much for a lap that wasn't the bell lap; a luxury I can't afford.
I was spent a bit, out in front and needed to fall back and recover. Like I did a few times during the race to fall behind a wheel, I slowed down but this time surges were coming from left and I was completely spent.
Without having made any recovery, I started falling back quickly in the echelon, deep in the pain cave, panting for breath. My abs were in horrible pain as I gasped for air. I wished the race was over, or I really wanted to quit. I went against everything I had planned for.
By the time I was able to regained my thoughts, I was far back towards the end of the pack, long line of riders ahead. I saw Tom and Kevin make surges and reminded myself that they are on their 2nd of back to back races and I better not get dropped here.
With my goal of finishing in the pack literally far out ahead of me, I figured fighting the pain would be futile and decided to sit in where I was and recover for a lap; without slowing down for turns. I remembered reading somewhere it may be worth it to go wide and keep the speed up than trying to nail the apex every time.
After about 4 corners, I was starting to crawl up towards the front again and learned that moving up the pack can be done without jumping into the pain cave. That toward end of the race, there are plenty of "ladders" that connect to the front and I can jump from one to another to get back up.
Finally on the last turn in the last lap, I was able to slingshot myself into the front of the group and started pedaling as hard as I can to the finish. Again, not having the ability to recover fast, I didn't have the energy left to get out of my saddle to sprint but I pedaled hard. Couple of people passed me in the last couple of hundred meters and I passed a couple of people. Then it was over. 7th place.
My first prime, first pack finish, first top 10.
Again, boasting the status of unofficial weakest guy on the team, I put in everything I had in the shallow tank of mine and it was painful after the finish. But I also gained confidence that I can play my cards right and be competitive. Also learned that everyone is pretty spent at the end and it's whomever that has that little bit left and/or that can endure the pain for extra ten seconds.
I'll be the first one to admit that I hate pain but I' more curious to find out if my plans will stick next time and how the race may unfold.
They say that's part of the fun. They said that's why one keeps coming back.
I guess they were right because I am typing this in lycra and will be going out to train for the next race as soon as I click on the "Submit" button.